2020 in Review

To say the year 2020 was extraordinary is a massive understatement. Here is our wrap-up of news we covered through the year affecting Utah’s LGBTQ community.

January 2020

Mark Lawrence is QSaltLake’s ‘Person of the Decade’

Mark Lawrence had a dream: “I wanted to bring gay marriage to Utah.” No one, including those who ultimately became the plaintiffs in the case, believed it was possible. And no one thought he was the man to get it done. Yet, because of his hard work, a federal judge in 2013 overturned all of Utah’s marriage laws, including a constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to between only a man and a woman.

Condoms offend the governor, so he pulls out

Saying he didn’t want Utah taxpayer’s money paying for condom packages that twist Utah landmarks and sayings into sexual innuendos, Gov. Gary Herbert pulled over 100,000 condoms, a website, and a billboard campaign aimed at HIV prevention in the state.

The campaign started a hit. Many places ran out of the first stash before the governor had them pulled only an hour before the media announced them.
With such twists on the Utah vernacular as “Uintah Sex?” referencing the county in eastern Utah, “Greatest Sex on Earth” mimicking a phrase on Utah license plates, and “This is the Place” featuring a graphic of a bed, people began collecting and talking about them.

The campaign’s website, HIVandMe.com, was also temporarily pulled but is alive today, with changes.

Utah Harm Reduction Coalition recreated the campaign with similar artwork in December and sold them as “crates” of six designs to help promote and fund their efforts.

Utah contestant in Miss USA pageant first out bisexual

Utah’s Miss USA contestant is the first out bisexual to compete. The first LGBTQ contestant in the 68 years of the Miss USA pageant was Miss Utah USA’s, Rachel Slawson. The 25-year-old, who competed as Miss Park City, won the title on her fifth try on Jan. 19.

While she didn’t place in the competition, aired in November at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tn., she said she was proud to be a contestant who “was a reflection of people like me.”

Slawson was open about her bisexuality and her diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Chris Wharton elected Salt Lake City Council Chair

A day after Erin Mendenhall was sworn-in on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building, the Salt Lake City Council elected Councilman Chris Wharton, who represents District 3, Capitol Hill, the Avenues, and Federal Heights, as its chair. The openly gay attorney leads the council through January 2021.

Utah bans conversion therapy

Utah became the 19th state in the nation to protect minors from the practice of so-called “Conversion Therapy” on January 22. Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing and Gov. Gary Herbert adopted new rules to prohibit any state-licensed therapist from practicing conversion therapy with minors. This means they are barred from encouraging a child to change their sexual orientation or gender identity in any way or give the child hope they can change themselves.

A legislative bill by Rep. Craig Hall was hijacked in 2019 by conversion therapy proponents and watered down so far as to make it dangerous. Hall asked the body to kill the bill.


BYU honor code change brings confusion to LGBTQ students

LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University quietly dropped prohibitions of all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings from its 70+ page “honor code.”

Students held kiss-ins on campus to celebrate the change, but attempts by LGBTQ and ally students to get more definitive answers from BYU officials about whether students can date, hold hands and kiss in public were less than fruitful.

“Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same,” BYU’s official Twitter account read shortly after the kiss-ins.

Utah’s surrogate law tweaked to allow gay male couples access

Unconstitutional discriminatory language in a state law that could bar married gay male couples from using a surrogate to have a child was almost unanimously passed through both houses of the Utah legislature.
Rep. Patrice Arent’s HB234 was a fairly simple “housekeeping” bill that updated state law governing surrogacy contracts to comply with a recent unanimous opinion by the Utah Supreme Court.

The justices ruled in 2019 that one portion of the law was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses because it allowed gestational agreements only if one of the parents is a woman, excluding same-sex male couples.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard was the lone dissenter on Utah’s Capitol Hill. The bill was signed on Mar. 24 by Gov. Gary Herbert.

Utah man charged with hate crimes in attacks on gay man and black man

A homeless man, Chad Brandon Phyfer, 46, was charged Feb. 27 with two counts of assault after prosecutors say he separately attacked two passersby with pepper spray near a public library in Salt Lake City, using a racial slur against an African American man and a homophobic slur against a gay man.

MARCH, 2020

Bill to study treatments for trans youth dies in the Utah House

A bill that started as a Utah Eagle Forum attempt to ban gender corrective surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender youth failed by a wide margin in the Utah House. The bill was watered down to a study on the issue.

“This legislation started as a discriminatory ban on transgender healthcare and has now been defeated. We are grateful to Rep. Daw for compassionately hearing the stories of transgender youth. We look forward to continued dialogue with lawmakers on the healthcare needs of the transgender community,” Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said in a statement.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declares a state of emergency in Utah over the Coronavirus on March 6.

SL man charged with rape, sexual assault on a woman to ‘fix the gay’

Salt Lake City police arrested a man after a woman accused him of raping and sexually assaulting her after saying he would “fix the gay.” The woman told police she is a lesbian, said she was visiting 34-year-old Adam Quinn Atwood and his wife in their Glendale home, and that the pair was intoxicated when she arrived. She claims Atwood assaulted her before she was able to escape in her car.
Atwood faces 11 felonies and was being held on a $750,000 bail, though Judge Kristine Johnson allowed him to be released from jail without bail and with no restrictions on contacting the alleged victim.

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Magna shakes much of the Wasatch Front on March 18. Aftershocks lasted weeks.

APRIL, 2020

Logan Pride’s Crista Sorenson dies after suffering a stroke

Crista Sorenson, known to most in Logan, Utah’s LGBT community as the driving force behind Logan Pride and the Logan Pride Center died Wednesday, April 1, a week after a massive stroke at the age of 44.
Sorenson was one of three original directors of the Logan Pride Foundation, which hosts the Logan Pride Festival and just this year opened the Logan Pride Center directly across the street from the Logan Tabernacle.

Utah Pride postponed, Utah Arts Festival canceled, UAF closed

The Coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of many events across the state and the closure of many service industry businesses. The Utah Pride Center announced that the Utah Pride Festival and Parade, scheduled for June, would be postponed. The Utah Arts Festival canceled the 2020 event. The Utah AIDS Foundation closed its doors and moved to online case management. All events scheduled at the Utah Pride Center were also canceled, with some services moving to online meetings.

MAY, 2020

Utah Pride Center lays off much of its staff as donations slow

As the Utah Pride Center’s largest fundraiser was postponed and, as it turned out, did not happen in its normal way, leaders did what they call a “restructuring,” resulting in many layoffs of staff and a reduction of services.

Executive director Rob Moolman and the Center’s board of directors made this decision “out of an abundance of caution for the finances and long-term future of the Center,” he said.
Ten people were involved in this round of layoffs, leaving 15 people on staff.

Young nonbinary Salt Laker goes missing; still not located

Eztli Atl Cortez Trujillo, 22, went missing on April 23. Trujillo’s vehicle was found crashed and abandoned on Ogden Canyon Road, a mile west of the North Ogden Divide trailhead. Search parties in various areas revealed no clues and Trujillo remains missing at this time. More at https://linktr.ee/FindEz.

JUNE, 2020

Utah Pride Center announces second ‘restructuring’

After its first restructuring in May, the Utah Pride Center announced on June 10 a second round and a new vision for what their structure will look like moving forward in light of the global pandemic.

“We know that our world and our Center is not, and can never be, the same place that it was just a few months ago. Community spaces, like our Utah Pride Center, are all confronting this contemporary reality in different ways. One of the impacts of COVID-19 has been the need to carefully and deliberately consider the structure of the organization,” leaders wrote in a statement.

The announcement was not without controversy. Social media posts pointed to the staff reductions as retaliation against those who have raised concerns about how the Center is managed.

Thousands gather in Salt Lake for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights rally

All of June were Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. On June 14, a week after the Utah Pride Parade should have happened, thousands of protesters assembled at Liberty Park and marched to Washington Square in support of LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter causes.

U.S. Supreme Court rules LGBTQ people are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The U.S. Supreme Court handed a major victory in the battle for LGBTQ rights as ruled gay and transgender Americans are protected from employment discrimination under federal law. While Utah had its own employment nondiscrimination act that covered sexual and gender minorities, the ruling granted the same protections across the country.
“[The ruling] offers sweeping but fundamentally important protections to LGBTQ Americans. No longer can someone be fired or evicted from their home just because they’re LGBTQ,” said Clifford Rosky, a professor of Law at the University of Utah.

Rosky also said the ruling was the “most important and significant victory in the history of the LGBT movement.”

A Utah-raised trans man competes in The Rock’s ‘Titan Games’

Fourteen years after The Deseret Morning News declared a 6’2” 170-pound Mountain View High School athlete “Ms. Basketball,” that athlete stood on a platform, ready to compete before 3.8 million viewers in the Titan Games, hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This time as Mitch Harrison — the first transgender man to compete on the show.

The News reported how “little girls were telling her they wanted to be like her some day.” Now, according to Harrison, the stories from media across the world may now be writing how trans people want to be like him some day.

While Harrison didn’t take home the title, he did get the admiration and pride from Johnson, who said, “Here’s a snapshot of what the world could and should be one day — embracing, supporting, and loving all people.”

JULY, 2020

Damn These Heels Film Festival went online

The Utah Film Center’s Damn These Heels Film Festival moved to a streaming format because of the Coronavirus. Attendees could view the entire festival safely from their own homes. The festival presented 23 feature films, four shorts programs, and even a drive-in theater experience.

Openly gay Utah County commissioner ousted at convention

A Republican county commissioner in one of the most conservative counties in the county was voted out of office in a primary after coming out as gay. Nathan Ivie says a backlash during the campaign has him questioning whether his party has a place for him.

While he believes his sexuality played a role in his loss, his vote in favor of a contentious property tax increase became a key issue in the race. He lost by over 20 points.

Former LDS Church official issues apology to LGBTQ people

Mormon mental health professional Dr. Allen E. Bergin issued an apology in July for his part in perpetuating anti-LGBTQ teachings in his roles with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also called upon other church members, fellow psychologists, and political leaders to “apologize and compensate” LGBTQ people “who have been afflicted by our treatment of them when they should have been embraced and loved.”

“To the general public, I say — Stop. Listen. Learn. Love. To myself, my posterity, my colleagues, my fellow church members, and by political leaders, I say — apologize and compensate those of God’s children who have been afflicted by our treatment of them when they should have been embraced and loved. Give them their rightful place in society and in the church so they may be nurtured and progress in their spiritual, social, and professional lives.”

AUGUST, 2020

Ogden waiter receives tip with ‘Get Out of America, Fag!’ written on it

An Ogden man got an extraordinary tip during his shift at an Ogden restaurant. But not extraordinary in a good way. On the five-dollar bill was scrawled, “Get out of America, Fag!”

“I got this tip today while serving an older couple and their middle-aged son. They were all wearing Trump 2020 hats,” Ashton Bindrup posted on his Facebook wall alongside two photos of the bill. “I can’t imagine hating someone enough to go out of my way to write a slur on the tip I’m going to give them.”

Heber City limits types of banners on city poles because of LGBTQ flags

The Heber City Council voted unanimously to limit what banners can adorn poles on city streets after community members complained about Pride banners being flown a second year. New rules allow for banners celebrating state and federal holidays, but others require city manager approval and can only be requested by Heber City, Wasatch County, and Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce. Events must be “nonprofit and nonpolitical.”

Dozens of cars took place in a “Heber Main Street Rainbow car cruise of ally vehicles to show support for our town’s LGBTQ population” on Sunday, Aug. 23.

Sen. Lee pushes to waive LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws for faith-based adoptions, foster care

The Joint Economic Committee chaired by Utah Sen. Mike Lee issued a report saying his bill exempting faith-based organizations from LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws could help boost foster and adoption services.
Some churches, he says, stopped offering adoption or foster services in states where sexual orientation and gender identity laws would require them to place children with same-sex couples, which conflicts with their religious beliefs.


Encircle staffer arrested on child porn charges

Tyler Domgaard, a staffer at Encircle, an LGBTQ+ youth and family resource and recipient of Genderbands’ 2020 volunteer of the year award, reportedly admitted to a special agent that he downloaded and reposted child pornography on his Twitter account, which authorities were tipped off to by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“We have comprehensive safety policies and procedures in place at our houses, and we perform background checks on all personnel (employees or volunteers) who interact with our guests,” Encircle leaders wrote in a statement. “We are conducting a thorough review of these policies and procedures and are committed to making improvements where appropriate.”

Utah Suicide project releases plan

The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition released a new plan that provides a first-of-its-kind road map to reducing suicide rates among the state’s vulnerable LGBTQ+ community.
The most significant area for improvement, the report reveals, is a need for better education among health care providers about LGBTQ+ individuals, their particular health needs, and the barriers they face in accessing care, said Ray Bailey, co-chair of the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition’s LGBTQ+ Work Group.


Utah Pride 2.0 Road Rally held on National Coming Out Day

Due to the pandemic, the Utah Pride Center had to get creative this year to keep the center’s life-saving programs and services available to the LGBTQ+ community. Keeping social distancing and state guidelines in mind, the Center worked with Salt Lake City and the Utah Department of Health to organize PRIDE 2.0.
Rather than decorated floats and tens of thousands of people packed into seven downtown blocks, everyone in the community — LGBTQ+ and allies — was invited to decorate their vehicles and bikes and join in the Road Rally on a long stretch of Main Street.

Sandy neighborhood receives anti-rainbow flag letter

An anonymous letter was sent around a Sandy community by “neighbors and ward members” saying that rainbow flags planted on front lawns in the neighborhood were “concerning to many of us.”
However, those in the neighborhood say that the letter was likely delivered by one disgruntled person, and doesn’t represent the people in the community at all.

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